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Sara Duzan’s guardian was formerly against the use of restraints on her

January 31, 2014 10 comments

The court-appointed guardian for Sara Duzan, who is now supportive of her care in a group home where Sara has been subjected to restraints and seclusion, strongly opposed the use of those methods for controlling her behavior in two previous publicly funded residences.

Emails and other records in the case show that both Lynne Turner, Sara’s guardian, and Turner’s husband, Michael, were highly critical in late 2011 and early 2012 of Sara’s care and treatment at the Spaulding Youth Center in New Hampshire and the Kolburne School in New Marlborough, MA.  In addition, Michael Turner, who was the attorney for Sara’s family until December 2011, criticized Sara’s previous guardian for having cut off all communication between Sara and her family.

The circumstances of 2011 and 2012 appear to have repeated themselves in the past several months, only it is now Lynne Turner who, as Sara’s guardian, has cut off all family communication with her and appears to be in support of the use of physical restraints on her and enforced seclusion in her current residence operated by Becket Family of Services.

Lynne Turner has billed the family for her guardianship services, but the Duzans have refused to pay, contending they were initially assured there would be no charge for those services and that there was never any court order or agreement that they pay her.

I sent several email and telephone requests to Lynne Turner, asking, among other things, whether she has visited Sara yet in the Becket residence and whether she is satisfied that the staff there are using restraints and seclusion appropriately on Sara.  Other than to say in an email that she is a sole practicing attorney, in response to a question about her professional relationship to her husband, Turner did not respond to my questions.

Meanwhile, Massachusetts state Representative Paul McMurtry, whose district includes the Duzans’ hometown of Westwood, said he was committed “to doing everything possible to realize the goal of Sara’s return to her family.”  McMurtry called the cutoff in all family communication with Sara “heartbreaking,”  and said he finds it “unacceptable” that Sara’s parents have been forced to spend  a large portion of their life savings in legal fees in a battle in the probate court system over their daughter’s care.

Guardian says care and treatment plan is appropriate at Becket residence

In a guardianship report filed with the Norfolk County Probate Court on December 13, Lynne Turner stated that Sara’s care and treatment plan in her current residence “appears to be appropriate,” and that the “director and clinical director have been very attentive to Sara’s behavior and needs.” Turner’s report did not mention the use of restraints or seclusion on Sara by that facility.  Turner also stated in the report that she had never visited Sara in the Becket residence, in which she had placed her on July 24.

Sara was placed in physical restraints in the Becket residence 37 times and was placed in seclusion 59 times between last July and November, according to clinical records filed with Turner’s guardianship report.

Turner, who was appointed Sara’s guardian in December 2011, has upheld restrictions on all family contact with Sara in her current residence.  The Duzans have been prohibited from visiting her since last July and from contacting her in any way since before Thanksgiving. Turner further prevented the family even from sending Sara presents at Christmas; and Sara’s mother, Maryann, says flowers sent by the family to Sara were not given to her.

Maryann Duzan contends that the reason for the latest cutoff in all family contact with Sara has been to prevent the family from learning more about the extent of the use of restraints and seclusion on Sara in her current residence and the effect those techniques are having on her.  Restraints, in particular, have become increasingly controversial, and have been found to cause injury and death in some instances to persons subjected to them.

“We just want our daughter back,” her father, Paul Duzan, said.  “We’re very concerned about what’s happening to her, and we’re not even allowed to ask about it.”

Sara, now 22, has a rare genetic disorder called Smith Magenis Syndrome, which is characterized by intellectual disability and behavioral outbursts. The Duzans lost their guardianship of Sara in 2009, stemming from an admission by Maryann that she once slapped her daughter on the cheek, and the conclusion of a probate judge that the family has been uncooperative with providers in caring for her.

Maryann says she slapped Sara lightly because Sara was acting aggressively while at home and was threatening to throw a radio at her.  Her admission of the slap, however, led to an investigation of the Duzans by the Disabled Persons Protection Commission, which then filed motions in probate court to limit the family’s guardianship of Sara.  In 2010, a probate court judge ruled the family unfit as guardians, but nevertheless characterized the Duzans as a loving family toward Sara.

Maryann maintains that while Sara was in their care, the family never used restraints on her even when she had behavioral issues at home.  The Duzans and many other families with children with Smith Magenis Syndrome maintain that the use of restraints, in particular, on persons with the syndrome is counter-productive and actually makes their behavior more violent.

Guardian said restraints in previous residences were abusive

In 2011 and 2012, Lynne Turner appeared to have been in strong agreement with the Duzans that  restraints used on Sara were inappropriate and counter-productive. In a January 24, 2012 email,  written shortly after her appointment as Sara’s guardian, Turner stated that Sara “has been abused in two programs.”  Turner’s statement was in reference to allegations by the Duzan family that Sara had been abusively restrained at the Spaulding Youth Center between 2008 and 2010, and at the Kolburne School in 2011.

Turner’s January 2012 email alleging abuse of Sara in the two programs was written to Aaron Ginsberg, a staff attorney for the New Hampshire Disabilities Rights Center, who found that the Spaulding Center had subjected Sara to hundreds of inappropriate restraints between 2008 and 2010. Ginsberg noted that Sara frequently suffered bruises and other injuries from what are known as prone restraints, and was subjected to hours of enforced seclusion.  In addition, staff at the facility joked about Sara and other residents of the facility on Facebook, Ginsberg stated in a DRC memo.

Photo taken by Maryann Duzan of injuries to Sara's arms, which Maryann claims   were the result of physical restraints used on her at the Kolburne School in May 2011.

Photo taken by Maryann Duzan of injuries to Sara’s arms, which Maryann claims were the result of physical restraints used on her at the Kolburne School in  2011.  At the time, Lynne Turner, now Sara’s guardian, was highly critical of the use of restraints on Sara.

Photo taken by Maryann of injuries to Sara's right foot, allegedly resulting from restraints used on her at the Kolburne School in May 2011.

Photo taken by Maryann of injuries to Sara’s right foot, allegedly resulting from restraints used on her at the Kolburne School in  2011.

Complaints alleged abuse at Spaulding and Kolburne

Lynne Turner’s January 24, 2012 email to Ginsberg included an attached draft document, which echoed Ginsberg’s findings regarding the restraints used on Sara at Spaulding. The document was a draft complaint to the director of the Bureau of Special Education Appeals, charging that Sara was being “brutalized” at the Spaulding facility, and that the Westwood School District, which was then providing her special education services, had failed to investigate the alleged abuse.

The allegations in the draft BSEA complaint were originally made in a legal claim, sent by Lynne Turner’s husband, Michael, to Governor Deval Patrick and Attorney General Martha Coakley on March 11, 2011.  Michael Turner, with whom Lynne Turner shares a law office in Marion, MA, was working at the time as the Duzans’ attorney in their probate court battle over Sara’s care and guardianship.  His claim announced that he intended to file a $5 million lawsuit against DDS and the Disabled Persons Protection Commission on behalf of the Duzans in connection with the alleged abuse of Sara at the Spaulding and Kolburne facilities. The lawsuit was never filed.

The draft complaint to the BSEA and Michael Turner’s legal claim both alleged that Sara was being restrained for up to 70 hours a  week “in dangerous restraints,” and that she was “hit, tripped, locked in her room (at the Spaulding facility) and routinely demeaned by Spaulding Staff on Facebook and in person.”    According to the documents, Maryann and Paul Duzan “reported this action to the responsible agencies, including Westwood (the Westwood School District), who left her at Spaulding for months of continued abuse after the egregious physical and emotional abuse became known.”

The draft BSEA complaint and Michael Turner’s claim added that:

Quite often, Sara was restrained naked, by male staff, and female staff just stood by and watched.  The staff commented about Sara regularly on their Face Book pages.  All of this information was brought to Westwood’s attention but Westwood did nothing.  Westwood allowed the cruel torture to continue not only in violation of Massachusetts’ Law but Federal Law and the International Treaty the United States signed against torture.  Westwood did not care and did nothing; Westwood continued to blame the parents…

…This pattern is seen during Sara’s elementary years when Westwood built a box in Sara’s classroom in which to dump Sara, in which she would scream for hours and no one would care for her or help her. Westwood never informed the parents of this cell nor was this cell in the IEP (Individual Education Plan for Sara) or in a behavior plan the parents signed. This cell was only discovered by the parents when Sara came home with some of her teeth in a plastic bag.  Sara lost a number of teeth while in the cell, urinated on herself because they would not let her out.  The abuse Westwood visited upon Sara, at Spaulding, was and is only part of the years of abuse perpetrated upon Sara by Westwood.

Michael Turner’s claim also alleged that at the Kolburne School, Sara became infected with MRSA and ringworm, and that “the DPPC (Massachusetts Disabled Persons Protection Commission) has done nothing about protecting Sara from the mistreatment at Kolburne and has arbitrarily screened out all complaints out (sic).”

Earlier, in a November 16, 2011 email, prior to her appointment as Sara’s guardian, Lynne Turner offered advice to Maryann Duzan on seeking an investigation by the Disability Law Center, a federally funded legal advocacy organization, of Sara’s care at the Kolburne facility. In her email, Turner criticized both the Massachusetts Department of Developmental Services and the Disabled Persons Protection Commission for allegedly failing to respond to the Duzans’ requests that the two agencies investigate Sara’s care at Kolburne.  Turner advised Maryann Duzan to say she had requested an investigation of Sara’s care by the Disability Law Center:

… because DPPC and DDS did not exercise their investigatory powers appropriately. They clearly failed to exercise due diligence in the investigation of Sara Duzan’s mistreatment and her injuries and failed to keep her safe. The Disability Law Center has pictures of Sara’s injuries which substantiate the abuse and neglect suffered at the hands of Kolburn (sic) staff which DDS and the DPPC have totally ignored and it would appear so has the Disability Law Center.

A photo of Sara when she lived at home.  The family says they never used restraints on Sara when she was in their care.  The use of restraints on persons with Smith Magenis Syndrome has been criticized as counter-productive.

A photo of Sara at about the age of 10. She lived at home until the age of 18.  The family says they never used restraints on Sara.  The use of restraints on persons with Smith Magenis Syndrome has been criticized as counter-productive.

In 2009, the Duzans attempted to enlist the DPPC and DDS in investigating their abuse allegations.  Both the DPPC and DDS, however, instead went after the Duzans themselves, accusing them of abusing Sara and causing her emotional distress.  None of those allegations has been upheld, other than the charge that Sara’s mother, Maryann, had slapped her on the cheek on one occasion in 2009.

The draft BSEA complaint, attached by Lynne Turner to her email to Ginsberg, and Michael Turner’s claim to the governor and attorney general both characterized the allegations against Maryann and other family members of abuse as “egregiously false,” and stated that they had led to the removal of the Duzan family members as Sara’s guardians.

Maryann Duzan says the Disability Law Center declined the family’s requests in 2010 and 2011 to investigate Sara’s care at Spaulding and later Kolburne. Last week, the family contacted the Disability Law Center once again, seeking an investigation of Sara’s current situation.

Michael Turner alleged Sara was “brutalized” at Spaulding and Kolburne

In June 2011, Michael Turner filed a motion with the Norfolk County Probate Court to remove Sara from the Kolburne School, stating that Sara was being mistreated there.   In his motion, Turner maintained that in a previous special education program in a public school in Arlington, MA, Sara had not been subjected to any restraints, but that “Spaulding and Kolburne brutalize Sara with restraints day after day.”  Turner added that: “Kolburne now claims the injuries in the photos are self-inflicted wounds.  One can only wonder what this brutal behavior by the various staff members has done to damage Sara emotionally, physically and socially.”

Michael Turner also alleged that Sara’s then guardian, Daniel Smith, the executive director of the Arc of Greater Fall River, had done nothing about the alleged abuse inflicted on Sara at Kolburne, and that Smith had inappropriately cut off all contact between Sara and her family. Turner’s motion stated that the cutoff in communication:

…only continues the outrageous abuse Kolburne has suffered (sic) upon Sara which Dan Smith has pictures of and written reports of each incident per the Department of Education Regulations.

The only possible reason for Dan Smith to deny parental access to Sara Duzan is so they will not lean of the ongoing abuse of Sara which Daniel Smith has known of since Sara was at the Spaulding Center and did nothing.

Michael Turner’s motion to remove Sara from Kolburne was denied by Probate Court Judge Angela Ordonez, resulting in an additional six months of confinement for Sara at the facility; however, Sara was returned to her parents’ home in December 2011 on Lynne Turner’s order as Sara’s new guardian. She lived at home until January 2013 with no state services or state-agency scrutiny, according to Maryann.  At that point, Lynne Turner placed her in a residential program in Brewster where she remained until she turned 22 last July.  Turner then placed her in the Becket residence, which is a DDS-funded facility.  The Duzans say they objected to the Becket placement, requesting that Sara be returned home, but Turner denied their request.

On the home page of Michael Turner’s law firm website, a video from the Nancy Grace show contains a highly critical news feature about teachers in the Barnstable School District using physical restraints on autistic children.  Michael Turner is seen commenting in the video that by placing one particular child in restraints, a teacher was “training her to become a very violent child.”  The website states that Michael Turner  “has been representing children and their families in school related issues for many years in the areas of Special Education Services (and) rights and appeals of deficient services…”

In an email sent to Lynne Turner on January 28, I asked whether she supported her husband’s statements about restraints in the video on his website.  As noted above, I received no response to that question or to a question about her position on restraints at the Becket residence.

The family has declined to pay Turner for guardianship services

The Duzan family has declined to pay for Lynne Turner’s guardianship services since she was appointed as Sara’s guardian by the probate court in December 2011.  The family contends the court order contained no provision for payment of Turner and that it is not their responsibility to pay her.  The Duzans also contend that Turner has not been acting in Sara’s best interest by allowing her to remain in the Becket residence and by cutting off their communication with her.

Turner sent a bill to the family for payment for guardianship services, dated June 7, 2012, for $4,210.  The bill claimed roughly 77 hours of work done by Turner, and 7 hours by a paralegal in her firm, both at a $50-per-hour rate, since Turner’s appointment as guardian in December 2011.   Turner initially proposed a contract for her guardianship services for Sara that would have required the Duzan family to pay fees of $200 per hour to Turner, $200 per hour to another unnamed attorney in her firm, and $75 per hour to a paralegal and $25 per hour to a clerk in the firm.

The proposed contract was signed by Lynne Turner, but the Duzans refused to sign it.   Maryann and her son, David, said they had been assured by Michael Turner, prior to proposing his wife as Sara’s guardian, that there would not be a charge for her services. Lynne Turner’s proposed contract, however, referred to a court order that the family pay for Turner’s guardianship services, but Maryann maintains there was never a court order to that effect.

Lynne Turner subsequently proposed a contract for guardianship services that specified a $50-per-hour charge to the Duzans for her services, $50 per hour to another unnamed attorney in the firm, $25 per hour to a paralegal, and no charge for clerical services.  The Duzans refused to sign that contract as well.

The Duzan family recently retained attorney Thomas Frain, who is COFAR’s president, to represent them in their efforts to return Sara home.  In response to a request from Frain to Lynne Turner for records relating to Sara’s care in the Becket residence, Turner responded that she would provide the records upon payment of $10,000 to her.  She said that the requested payment included $5,000 for producing the records themselves and an additional $5,000 for her unpaid guardianship services for Sara Duzan.

“Ten thousand dollars is a high price to pay to find out if your loved one is alive, well and being cared for,” Paul Duzan said.

To contact the governor’s office about this case:

Contact info for the Governor’s Office: Massachusetts State House Office of the Governor Room 105 Boston, MA 02133 Phone: 617.725.4005 888.870.7770 (in state) Fax: 617.727.9725 TTY: 617.727.3666 Email: constituent.services@state.ma.us

Also, please sign our petition to the governor to bring Sara home on change.org.  Thanks!

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